USB 3.0 Versus Thunderbolt

By · Friday, November 11th, 2011

Thunderbolt vs USB 3.0 Because of their platform affiliations, it seems like USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt were born natural enemies.  As it stands, the PC camp is all about SuperSpeed USB 3.0 while Apple is loyal to fostering the expansion of Thunderbolt.  The question everyone is demanding to know is, which interface is superior?  The answer is not so straightforward.  While yes, Thunderbolt is faster, there are additional factors to consider.  There’s a reason USB 3.0 flash drives have steadily surfaced on the market when Thunderbolt flash drives have yet to appear.

To help you better understand the up-and-coming interfaces that will affect your computer usage, we’ve compiled a fairly simple list below to reveal the differences between USB 3.0 versus Thunderbolt.

USB 3.0 Thunderbolt
Transfer Speed 4.8Gbps 10Gbps
Device Power 5 watts 10 watts
Size of Connector 11.5mm x 4.5mm 8.3mm x 5.4mm
Data Transfer Bidirectional Bidirectional
Cable Circuitry 8 wires 5 wires
Download Speed of HD Movie 60-75 seconds 30 seconds
Cost of 2 Meter Cable $4 $50
Market Debut 2009 2011
Support PC market Apple, Sony
Compatibility Backward compatible with USB 2.0 (USB 2.0 devices will still operate at 2.0 speeds). Compatible with PCIe and DisplayPort.  Need cable adapter for existing DisplayPort peripherals.

Through sheer cost alone, the SuperSpeed interface gives you the most for your dollar.  A number of solid peripherals have emerged from USB 3.0 flash drives to external hard drives, working with multiple configurations.  Additionally, USB 3.0 is more than sufficient for the average consumers’ daily demands, and it comes without the higher Thunderbolt price tag.

Thunderbolt has an important role though.  It can connect workstations with a single cable as well as improve video and audio applications with faster throughput.  As a result, the interface’s external storage devices exceed the speeds of what a PC can offer.  Thunderbolt offerings are still so limited now, that only time will tell where consumer demand will sway.  In the meantime, both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 will share the spotlight.

Thunderbolt versus USB 3.0—which side of the argument do you fall toward?  Weigh in below.


I wouldn’t say that cost alone gives you the most for your dollar when referring to USB 3.0. It depends on your needs. Lets take the 10Gb interface on Thunderbolt… for creative professionals you can get 2K film and uncompressed HD for editing purposes with multiple streams and have very low latency… USB 3.0 does not provide for multiple streams and the latency is off the charts!


I am the marketing manager at Texas Instruments for our PC oriented interface solutions and thought I share my 2c on this subject.

First, you say that Thunderbolt™ Technology (TBT) is “compatible” with PCIe and DP. It is not a matter of compatibility, TBT IS PCIe and DisplayPort. The TBT controller in the host system aggregates existing PCIe and DP into a single stream for transfer across a single connector and then in the peripheral device they are deaggregated. This is the real beauty if TBT – sending video and data over a single small cabled interface.

We actually see that TBT is about enabling new form factor systems and docking solutions much more so then about additional throughput. Not that you can’t get more throughput depending on how the PCie gets mapped, but it is still existing PCIe and DP that is available for the peripheral to use.

As to Jim’s comment on latency, TBT definitely offers latency enhancements over USB.

Thanks, Dan

Thanks for your insight Dan! :)

Thunderbolt is not just 10 Gbps but twice that: 2 x 10 Gbps.